There’s nothing easier than looking at the world around us and feeling despair. Society is in open rebellion against God and it seems like that rebellion must soon lead to some kind of persecution against God’s people. Courts and politicians seem content to chip away at the right to speak freely and worship according to conscience. Higher education and mainstream media are glad to play along with every progressive agenda. And amidst it all, even the church seems to be distracted by silly nonsense and engrossed in petty quarrels.
But despite all this, we should not be discouraged. We must not be discouraged. For it is in times like this that the Lord has so often proven his power. It is in times like this that the Lord has so often intervened to save his people and glorify his name. It is in times like this that God loves to act.
God’s people were being ground under the heels of the Midianites. Whenever the crops would ripen, the mighty armies of Midian would raid the land and pilfer the best of the produce. The starving people of Israel were forced to flee, to find refuge in dens and caves, to escape with their lives and not much else. But the people cried out to God and God heard them. He told them to assemble the smallest of all armies and with just a few hundred men who were armed with mere torches and jars, he put a mighty army to flight. Just when all hope seemed lost, God vanquished the foe and won a great victory.
The armies of Assyria had conquered all the cities of northern Judah and now approached Jerusalem. Though the king had plundered his own palace and temple in an attempt to buy off Assyria, they remained committed to laying waste to the city and destroying its people. They promised that before long the people of Jerusalem would be so destitute that they would resort to drinking their own urine and eating their own dung. But the people prayed. Led by the king, they pleaded with God for his help, they placed themselves in his hands. And he delivered them. Before they had so much as fired an arrow or swung a sword, God had routed the enemy army and sent it away.
God’s people were in captivity and facing a fearsome enemy. A time of state-sanctioned persecution was about to be unleashed upon them. The message went out: “On such a such a day, all the normal rules are relaxed. On that day, feel free to kill those people—men, women, and children alike—and take their stuff as your own. Have at it.” The end seemed to be at hand. But the people prayed and the people fasted and the people pleaded with God. And God moved. God delivered his people. God saved them.
Are we in worse condition than Israel under Midian? Is our situation more dire than when the Rabshakeh spoke aloud in the hearing of all the people to tell them that nothing and no one could save them? Is our day as bad as the day when Esther told the people to pray and said, “If I die, I die?” God’s love has not lessened, his arm has not weakened, his desire to glorify himself has not diminished. And so we must not grow despondent or discouraged.
And how could we be discouraged when we know this world is the Lord’s and that he has purposes to accomplish within it—purposes that no one can thwart? The God who vanquished Midian with the sound of breaking jars, the God who turned the Assyrians against one another, the God who turned a day of terror into a day of feasting has not become weak, has not become distant, has not become uninterested in the plight of his people.
On the day when Midian triumphs over the army of Israel and puts them to flight, on the day when the Rabshakeh marches victoriously into Jerusalem, on the day when Esther falls before the sword—on that day we may grow discouraged. On the day when God fails in just one of his promises, on the day when God neglects to come through on just one of his vows, on the day when he is proven a liar—on that day we may become despondent.
But until that time we have no reason to fret and no reason to despair. Until that day we have every reason to pray and to plead that God would move, that God would act, that God would protect his people and glorify his name. Until that time and that day, we have every reason to humble ourselves before the Lord and to entrust ourselves to the God who always does what is right.